Sunday, May 21, 2006

Feeling Presidential

Odessa, Texas, a half a shake up from Midland, where I spent the night, boasts a place I was told is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to all the Presidents. I'd been to the Clinton library in Little Rock, and honestly when I pulled off the highway I thought I might be seeing the Bush presidential library, but no. This was in some ways even better.

It started with a fellow who had collected a significant library on the topic of U.S. Presidents. Theses, speech notes, memorabilia, historical volumes--a private library, but a rich research trove. The library is still the core of the Presidential Museum and Leadership Library, but since setting up on property adjacent to the university they have also expanded to include displays on every U.S. President.

The displays don't go deep, because there's not room for that, but each includes a brief biography of the President, often including information about that President's First Lady, and each display contains a few pointed pieces of memorabilia--a campaign button, an autobiography, war mementoes, White House china. On the walls all over are significant quotations from all eras of the Presidency, and the walls of each display tell a little about American history of that President's time.

Not bad. I think I was the only visitor there that day. A school group had come through before me. I suppose not many travelers take the time to stop in Odessa to see this. But researchers over time will probably add to the collection and make it an even better research hub. I should add that while I was there I saw at least four staff members, each of whom took the time to help me in different ways. I suppose at least two of them were volunteers, but still I felt spoiled.

On the other hand, everyone I asked where the famous Odessa steps are just gave me a blank look. I told them I was sure they must know; there's a special ADA ramp now for baby carriages and such. Didn't seem to ring any bells. I told them I'd get some pictures from the Internet and send them a montage to see if they recognized the scene.

Oh, and the museum staff really do have a couple of favorite Presidents. George Herbert Walker Bush (the father) came from Connecticut to Odessa as a young man to seek his fortune in the oil fields, and he did quite well. He moved around a good bit, and spent more time in Midland, but Odessa still claims him as one of their own. George Walker Bush (the son) was born in Connecticut, but says he was reared in Texas, both Odessa and Midland. Laura Bush's mom still lives in Odessa, and I was told that Laura comes through town regularly to visit, often without much hullabaloo. Probably she appreciates having a place she can go and get some quiet.

Also it's probably warmer than Washington in the winter.

This is the first house the Bushes owned, after skipping from apartment to apartment. Note the kid on the tricycle on the left.

Here, the house's entertainment center, something that will be familiar to most folks today. I checked the disks on the phonograph. They were not marked with a speed, which means they must have been 78s. After 45 and 33 rpm records were developed, all records would say what speed to play them at. There was also no indication on the turntable of how to switch speeds.

I looked at the back, but I couldn't see anywhere to plug in my iPod.

These pesky little critters are all over the property. Genuine prairie dogs. The lady who showed me around said they left the lawn looking like it had been mowed with a machete.

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